Interview : Amina Agueznay by Saveria Mendella and Khémaïs Ben Lakhdar
This summer, the Maison Mode Méditerranée Endowment Fund will publish interviews with three French-Moroccan artists: Amina Agueznay, Hicham Lalhou , and Louis Bartélémy.
These discussions will cover their contemporary visions, both local and international, as well as their take on creation and design. The conversations were carried outby Khémaïs Ben Lakhdar , PhD Student in the History of Art and Fashion, benefiting from a Maison Mode Méditerranée Endowment Fund Research Grant, and Saveria Mendella, PhD Student in Fashion Anthropology and Linguistics, benefiting from a CIFRE Industrial Training and Research Agreement with the MMM Endowment Fund.
The first interview is with the Moroccan Artist and Architect Amina Agueznay, lauréate OpenMyMed Prize 2010. As an Emeritus Ambassador, Amina Agueznay,along with her collaborators, campaigns forthe preservation of the Craft and Give-Back values she shares with the Maison Mode Méditerranée Endowment Fund.
Amina Agueznay is a Moroccan artist born in Casablanca to a family of artists. Her mother, Malika Agueznay, developed abstract art and participated in the definition of the codes of the Casablanca school.
Amina gained a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC,and during the production of her first works as an Architect in the USA, she also took a training course in jewellery making. Ten years later, upon her return to Morocco, where she now lives in Marrakech, she used the skills she gained in the US and collaborated with Moroccan government agencies to identify and develop local skills and know-how.
In 1999, the ‘plastic artist’ had her first exhibition at the Arab World Institute in Paris.
In 2010, she became a laureate of the first Open My Med Prize Competition, an experience which comforted her in terms of her choices and artistic vision.
The collections of the Marseilles Museum houses her necklace-sculpture, exhibited as part of the 2013 year-long series of cultural events celebrating Marseilles, European Capital of Culture.
As part of their policy to always stayin touch with the talented artists they have met over the years and generations, the Maison Mode Méditerranée Endowment Fund organised in June 2021 a ‘virtual meeting’ to talk to the artist about her commitment to art and crafts, her international vision and her artistic implication.
Saveria Mendella, and Khémaïs Ben Lakhdar had the pleasure of talking to Amina Agueznay about her work and her multidisciplinary career during a wide-ranging interview produced here in exclusivity.
In exclusivity for the MMM Endowment Fund, Amina Agueznay talks about being a committed woman, her international vision and her artistic involvement.
Exposition Artistes Marocaines de la Modernité 1960 – 2016, Musée Mohamed VI d’Art Modern et Contemporain, Rabat – 2016, Curator: Rim Laabi – Crédit Photo : Courtesy Cultures Interface Photo Khalil Nemmaoui
LIFE AND COMMITMENTS TO ARTS AND CRAFTS
Saveria : To start the interview, we would like to ask you a few questions about arts and crafts and your creative commitments. When you returned to Morocco, you worked with Moroccan government agencies to help the development of local craftsmen and craftswomen. Since that time, you work with craftswomen to realise your works. Where do you stand in terms of transmission and collaboration?
Amina Agueznay : The relationship with a craftsman or craftswoman is very important to me. In no way is the relationship I have with them a vertical one. We have a real exchange between skills, know-how and innovation.
Even with my first jewellery collection, I collaborated with a craftsman who encouraged the Ministry of Arts and Crafts to work with me, as well as with other designers, to accompany craftsmen and craftswomen with certain specialist skills in order to innovate handmade articles. During this programme I became aware of something which dramatically changed my routine in the workshop. I realised that it was important for me to get out and be in the field. I had an excellent idea [laughter] given that Morocco is rich with skills and know-how. I am currently working on transmission by encouraging craftsmen and craftswomen to recognise and appreciate the decorative images and designs they have been weaving for many years, but also to get them to use new ones which, you could say, are more commercial and more sellable. The repetitive nature of the physical act of weaving sometimes leads to a worrying lack of knowledge about the symbols being woven. The physical action is transmitted but not the significance of the meaning of the design being woven.
Khémaïs : That’s fascinating. In fact, what you are saying is that by integrating modernity you can perpetuate ancestral traditions?
Amina Agueznay : Yes. However, you also have to deal with the important reality of who will buy the innovative product? For craftswomen, innovation is something they are really worried about. For example, the middlemen involved in selling carpets are very important as they know what is being made and what will sell. They rely more on the demand side of the market rather than selling new, innovative creative works.
Saveria : The feeling of kinship with and closeness to the women you work with is an integral part of your creative process. In your family, both you and your mother are artists. Is that the reason why women have a central place in your work ?
Amina Agueznay : It is true that my mother is one of the most important female artists in Morocco.
But I don’t work only with women. It depends on the skills I need and use. When I create, I follow a precise process which I developed during my architectural studies, but I always begin with the material. In the beginning I presented myself by saying “I create materials”. But now I am very much more into creation through the textiles. And in the world of textiles, in Morocco, it is often craftswomen who do the work, except in a region in the Middle Atlas where there are a few male weavers, but they tend to concentrate on cutting and their female colleagues on weaving.
But I am a women who prefers to be in the field, which is where I learned the feeling of kinship with and closeness to the women I work with. For example, when I run workshops, I am always on the lookout for people I would like to work with. During these workshops, there are always women who help me out with my creations. They have become my sisters, and we form a large family. So, after the workshops, I like to make visits in the field with certain of the women as they help me find new collaborators in the souks. It is through this mutual support that we can then work together. I don’t know if that is the concept of sisterhood, but we are definitely a family, which is constantly getting bigger. On top of that I do not hesitate in creating networks for work between craftswomen and craftsmen.
Khémaïs : Is there a political value in bringing these people together ?
Amina Agueznay : No, I don’t think about that sort of thing. In the end, what does it mean? Yes, I suppose that uniting people is a form of politics. But I am more interested in making these people, and their skills, better known. Furthermore, I am working on a project called “Putting them on the map” to put the spotlight on these women and men who have extraordinary skills and know-how.
Saveria : In developing the ancestral skills and know-how of Moroccan women weavers, do you also want to be a spokesperson for your country on the international scene?
Amina Agueznay : No, my aim is not to be a spokesperson. I put everything into the work we do, so that it will speak for itself. What I have done was not calculated, particularly my collaborative approach which is the fruit of my experiences on the ground. Of course, I always mention the names of the people I work with. The fact of being a voice for these people is not voluntary, but rather motivated by the desire to make them known, without any intellectualisation. In fact, I think I prefer the term “courier”, which is less pretentious and is a reminder that I am only a link in the chain, as we all are. And you need to include a notion of respect, which is fundamental.
Without a good relationship with the women artisans, as well as a great respect for the life of each one, my last work, for example, would never have seen the light of day. It required me travelling across the whole of Morocco, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, to complete it! I no longer know what is more important, the work itself, or the story behind the ‘making of’. The miracle of the energy which is behind the making of the work, is, I believe, what people feel and experience.
Khémaïs : Secular Moroccan traditions are the watermarks or your work, particularly in “ACT 1 Incarner le visible (Embody the visible)”, at the 2019 Rabat Biennale, where the carpet and the way it is woven are very important. Could you tell us some more about your relationship with these traditions?
Amina Agueznay : Of course. In the traditional way things are made in Morocco, the processes involved are extremely important. For me, it is impossible to dissociate a product from a process. It is where these two elements meet, behind the métier of the weaver, where things become magical. A whole world where it is essential that I make a contribution, by sitting down with the mâallem [the master craftswoman] and to feel the repetition of the movement, which as you weave, over time, becomes a ritual. The ancestral movements of weaving lead you into a sort of trance.
Concerning ACT I, in effect, the carpets accompany the dead in the hereafter. I was inspired in part by a trip to Abu Dhabi and by the Egyptians whose tombs are ornamented with objects to, in the same way, accompany the deceased in the hereafter. But my main aim was to no longer have the objective of controlling the material. I wanted something random, without a conscious decision, not only in the jewellery but in the creative act in general.
So, to create the links, the necklace was woven on stones which were later removed from the wool. The end objective of this process is to question how the creative gesture, that of the artist, is shown to the world to the extent that the artist is no longer needed. You really need to see how the hands of the women weavers are positioned relative to their body. It is quite beautiful. There are even some regions in Morocco where they weave back to front, without seeing what they have woven [the beginning of the Middle Atlas].
Returning to Act 1, I wanted to show the process by starting with my artefacts, in this case the jewellery, right up to the finished object. An itinerary like a map of my little world where I tuck myself away. This notion of being tucked away is very important for me. A marvellous female writer [Ghita Triki] translated this installation into words. I would like to read you her text.
Exposition Un Instant Avant le Monde – Biennal de Rabat, Musée Mohamed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Rabat – 2019, Curator: Abdelkader Damani – Crédits : Amina Agueznay Guy Thimel
Crédit : Portefolio Amina Agueznay
Works and relationships with textiles and materials.
Saveria : You mention the fact of “connecting” with craftsmen and craftswomen. Connecting between humans is a process which includes the unexpected, particularly that of not knowing what sort of relationship will emerge. So, do you accept the unexpected, which can have an effect right up to the finished work ?
Amina Agueznay : That is an interesting question because, as an architect, for me, there is never anything unexpected. The way of working that this profession requires does not allow me to believe in a happy accident. However, at this time, I wonder if refusing to consider the unexpected is more about wanting total control. My projects are choreographies orchestrated with my teams, but, yes, at some moment you need to let go. It is when you accept the individual knowledge of the craftswomen and the initiatives they take individually as specialists, that joyous unexpected things happen, which are controlled, and make the work and its history that much richer. However, there are also certain craftsmen and craftswomen who refuse to propose new ideas as creators. We have to respect their desire to remain only as executors.
Khémaïs : You often mention yarn. Talk to us about these textile materials which you transform into landscapes, we go from body to space to suddenly remember the connection between the two. Can you tell us why yarn and textile are privileged media in your creative work ?
Amina Agueznay : Yes, but why? It is very interesting. You are right, the idea of structure is permanent. Precisely, you have to go back through my history. I have accompanied leather workers and weavers, and at the same time worked in architecture. Yarn is at the same time a module and a linearity. The line is necessary for construction, it is very important for me, particularly when it gives me the opportunity to change its property, particularly when you can multiply it. By multiplying yarns and their lines, you can create a structure which can become a second skin, like with clothes, or with bigger monuments like with my work. Start with the yarn needed for my training. And then, I think that everything depends on our environment, as an artist and plastician.
Khémaïs : The dialectics “clothing / covering” or “ decoration / structure” are very present in your work. Is the idea that textile becomes architecture.
Amina Agueznay : Effectively, because the volumes of clothing and jewellery inspire me, but the volumes intrigue me less. Extreme scales interest me, as do ornaments that you can remove, but not the body scale. I love structures that are moveable and at the same time architectural.
Khémaïs : Precisely, you are an exceptional ornament maker. Have you ever thought of creating a fashion accessory collection ?
Amina Agueznay : I was in contact with clothes during the exhibitions. In 2008, for the Kaftan event, I created a piece of jewellery. I was inspired by jewellery on a human scale, which you could wear, to create large pieces of jewellery to adorn the walls. But you cannot improvise at being a specialist in every field, and I am not good at being a boss. In a certain way I am already involved with accessories, but not with clothing, even though I recognise it provides some shelter, like creations in architecture. When I made jewellery, I needed to be in control of the material, to work with my hands. I was creating a material which the craftsman then assembled, but, as I developed in my work, I moved away from manual work. However, since the lockdown, I have started to work with my hands again, particularly with paper which is an ephemeral material. It reminded me of scale models, which can also have a short lifespan.
Crédit : Portefolio Amina Agueznay – Photo : Leila Alaoui
Amina Agueznay & The Maison Mode Méditerranée Endowment Fund
Khémaïs : In 2010, the year you won the Open My Med Prize, you made a unique piece, a necklace, which you offered to the Maison Mode Méditerranée. In 2013, it was on show in Marseilles as part of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture. The necklace was photographed and included in videos by Mark Blezinger. What is your opinion of this unique work today?
Amina Agueznay : It was an encounter I wanted to honour. The work has not always been understood. But I adored creating this piece which is immense when compared to the classic dimensions established for necklaces. All the body, not just the head, must be used to support it. Which is what you can see in the photographs.
Saveria : And finally, nearly twenty years ago you first met the Maison Mode Méditerranée, what did you get from that meeting?
Amina Agueznay : Maryline [Bellieud-Vigouroux] ! What a marvellous woman. As soon as we met she showed confidence in me and supported me, even though I was not particularly attracted to creating clothing. Even though our relationship has been at a distance, it still exists.
The training and education during the Open My Med Prize in Marseilles was very instructive, I still use what we learnt, particularly in the areas I wasn’t very good at until then, like marketing and accounting. That year’s laureates are all marvellous and I have remained friends with a number of them. I also met some experts who worked for groups involved in luxury goods, and they were adorable. Since that experience, I really have the impression that we are part of a big family which is welcoming and looks after you. There is a reality which you cannot forget: that it is difficult for Arab artists and creators to have a career in France. Maryline created a bridge between the Mediterranean and France. I will never forget Olivier Saillard [currently a Board Director of the MMM Endowment Fund] who, during the programme, encouraged us to find a new way to show our work which translated the pride we have in our origins. Interesting things don’t happen in Europe any more, you have to go somewhere else, there where Maryline gave us a voice to express ourselves !
Crédit Photo : Olivier Amsellem
Amina Agueznay is currently showing her work at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris: a piece realised jointly with craftswomen during the exhibition “Ce qui s’oublie, ce qui reste” [What is forgotten- what remains]*. The work brings together historical symbols, well known or ignored by the craftswomen, which questions the idea of transmission and repetition with eventually a loss of meaning caused by kinesic repetitions.
We would like to give a big thank you to the artist for this interview which was rich and fascinating.
* Exhibition “Ce qui s’oublie, ce qui reste.” from 19 May to 29 August 2021. Musée National de l’Histoire de l’Immigration [The National Museum of the History of Immigration]